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Cuts in social programmes are being presented by the big parties and media as a foregone conclusion of the general election. Indeed, higher education has already been coming under attack. However, this renewed offensive is meeting resistance from students, lecturers and other university workers. A pro-social government would ensure increased investment in higher education, which forms a crucial part of the socialised economy.
A particularly sharp example presently highlighting this key election issue is the ongoing battle to safeguard the future of the University of Sussex. Students and staff have organised occupations and demonstrations, faced police brutality and held record meetings. They have achieved various successes and have started to put forward their own vision of what Sussex University can and should be.
The university announced in November last year plans to axe over 100 staff as part of a £5 million of cuts, citing "tough times". The university is to end its environmental sciences degree and scale down its English, history, and life science departments.
The Brighton and Hove News site quoted Vice-Chancellor Prof. Michael Farthing at the time as saying: "We do not embark lightly on changes which result in posts being lost. No one wants to see their friends and colleagues lose their jobs. Where possible we will try to avoid compulsory redundancies. Staff affected by the changes will receive our support and help."
He added: "The University of Sussex has an international reputation and produces research of international excellence across the disciplines. We attract world-class academics and have seen our international student numbers rise by 45% since 2006. We are extremely proud of this."
"I am confident that the steps we are proposing will help safeguard our future as one of the UK's top research universities."
The argument of positioning a university as "research-led" has been used across the country over the past decade to justify course closures, staff cuts and other university "restructuring" exercises. By suggesting that investment is to be consolidated in "successful" areas and cutting out "unpopular" courses, market forces are being increasingly introduced to ensure that universities carry out the research and teaching required by the narrow needs of big business.
On March 26, Sussex University Council approved the plans, agreeing to 107 job losses from teaching positions in less popular subjects to security, crèche and support staff, amounting to nearly 5% of the workforce.
Prof. Farthing is reported as saying: "This approach is in line with the strategic direction set by Council to continue to invest in potential growth, and to reduce spending in targeted areas." (Sussex University’s strategic plan, "Making the Future", can be found at http://www.sussex.ac.uk/strategicplan).
This is part of the current trend where university management bodies are setting out their business plans for institutions to find their niches as individual competing parts of the "knowledge-based economy". It is in this way that, while announcing the end of the environmental science degree in one breath, in another they announce investment in climate change. It is reminiscent of the winding-up of physics at Newcastle University earlier last decade alongside their focus on nanotechnology and materials science.
On February 8, after weeks of campaigning, over 100 students occupied the top floor of the university's Bramber House. "We recognise that an attack on education workers is an attack on us," the students said in a statement. The room was chosen was not a lecture theatre but a conference centre, "a key part of management’s strategy to run the university as a profitable business."
Later, on March 3, the Sussex University and College Union (UCU) voted 76.4% in favour of striking with a turnout of more than 80%. On the same day, 60 students occupied Sussex House.
Violence ensued when demonstrators who attempted to join the occupation were attacked by 120 riot police called in by the management. According to reports, the police were armed with CS spray, tasers, dogs and batons. Two students were arrested and detained without charge. One of the protesters, Tabitha Rohrer, described events on her blog, which contains photographs and videos (also available on YouTube):
"As the afternoon wore on, riot police showed up with the tools of their trade – weapons and dogs. The atmosphere became a lot less pleasant. The riot police were clearly there to escalate the situation and frighten everyone.
"At one point, students tried to rush into the building. Bad idea. The police responded as police do: with violence.
"I stood ten feet away and watched the police brutally shove and beat two students who had not struck them. I’d never witnessed police brutality firsthand before, and it’s not something I’m keen to experience again. It was deeply disturbing.
"One officer with a dog essentially threatened another photographer with being bitten if she didn’t stay back."
To add insult to injury and to further intimidate, six students were summarily suspended from campus for 30 working days, which could be renewed at the end of the suspension. No evidence was presented to "The Sussex Six" and no opportunity given for them to challenge the suspensions.
Further, the university obtained an injunction banning any protest actions on campus without written consent. Student newspaper The Badger pointed out that the injunction meant "further protests and occupations can be dealt with under criminal law rather than civil law."
The sending-in of riot police to university grounds, their violent attack on a peaceful protest and the management's turning of the students' legitimate actions into a matter of law and order should be condemned.
Disregarding the threats, students occupied the refectory at the Falmer campus in a fresh protest on March 11, which included a march of 200 students to Bramber House. Students stayed in occupation until March 18, the day the UCU staff went on strike.
The previous day, the Sussex Student Union held an Emergency general meeting, once of the biggest in the university's history, packed by over 850 students, which passed a motion of no-confidence in the Vice Chancellor and his Executive Group and a further motion calling for the unconditional re-instatement of the Sussex Six. The University Senate also moved against the summary suspension.
As a result, the management conceded and revoked the suspension, and the students declared their occupation victorious on March 18. A day later, the Deputy Vice Chancellor Paul Layzell left his position.
Just over a week later and the Council ratified the management plans. This is after the UCU described its last meeting with outgoing Deputy Vice Chancellor as its "most positive yet".
More recently, university staff threatened second wave of strike action for May 5, the eve of the general election, if the management presses on with making redundancies. Negotiations are due to resume on Thursday, and UCU members voted emergency meeting last week to strike if talks "do not progress in good faith".
Union representative Paul Cecil is quoted in The Argus as saying: "I am pleased there has been some movement from management as a result of pressure from staff and students. However, unless a negotiated settlement is reached soon around 100 staff will be receiving redundancy notices. This is not something we are willing to accept and our members are resolute in calling for further strike action if the university goes down this route."
By setting their own agenda for an alternative future for the university, students and university workers are proving their capability of becoming politicians in their own right. As the occupying students said in their leaving statement, "The occupation became far more than a symbolic opposition; it was a positive and exciting space in its own right – which has embodied our vision of what Sussex can, what Sussex should be, and of what we want from our education." They are the ones who should be empowered to decide.
To keep up to date, see http://defendsussex.wordpress.com.
While on a speaking engagement in Malaysia organised by "Success Resources Company", former Prime Minister Tony Blair was the object of an articulate protest movement demanding his indictment for war crimes.
This was no ordinary protest. Tony Blair has been accused of war crimes in a legal initiative led by the country's former Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
A War Crimes Tribunal as well as a War Crimes Commission were set up integrated by renowned jurists. Documentary evidence of war crimes committed by Blair and Bush has been carefully compiled and collected since 2006. The prosecution is led by several of Malaysia's most prominent lawyers.
Dr Mahathir in a public statement "expressed disgust at the companies that had sponsored Blair's visit here. 'How can you sponsor and get advice from a liar? Do you also intend to lie in carrying out your business?' he asked." (Thousands Of Slippers To 'Greet' Tony Blair In Malaysia, April 24, 2010)
Below we are posting the statement by the Perdana Global Peace Organisation (PGPO).
(source: Global Research, April 24, 2010)
Perdana Global Peace Organisation (PGPO), April 24, 2010
War criminal Blair, the keynote speaker at the National Achievers Conference organised by Success Resources, a sycophant Singapore outfit at the Sunway Pyramid Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur, hid in fear at the threat that members of the Malaysian anti-war NGOs would throw slippers at him and that members of the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission would serve an indictment for war crimes.
Extensive security measures were put in place before his arrival for the three-day event. For the first time, delegates to the conference had no itinerary of the speakers invited to speak at the convention. Organisers and delegates were not even told when speakers were scheduled to speak. There was a total black out!
Delegates have to wear a special wristband for the entire duration of the convention for identification purposes and no one without the security wristband was allowed to enter the vicinity of the convention hall.
Acting Chairman of the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission, Mr Zainur Zakaria, Chief Prosecutor of the War Crimes Commission, Mr Matthias Chang, two members of the Perdana Global Peace Organisation, Mr Ram Karthigasu and Mr Christopher Chang, a representative of the Malaysian Kwong Siew Association (one of the largest Chinese clan association) and two representatives of the Iraq Community in Malaysia evaded the security by registering themselves as delegates.
At 8.30am, members of NGOs gathered at the entrance of the convention centre to protest against the visit of war criminal Blair. Undercover teams were dispatched to the three separate entrances to confront and attempt to serve the war crimes indictment on Blair. But he could not be seen entering the convention centre.
He had entered surreptitiously and was hiding in a VIP room just above the convention hall where the function was held. His original schedule was 10.00am this morning. But organisers issued statements that no schedule was available.
British and Malaysian security officers were seen patrolling the corridors and had identified the seven delegates who were waiting for Blair. They kept a close watch on the delegates. Mind games began when rumours were spread that Blair would not be speaking today. Hints were given that Blair would be speaking on Sunday in the hope that the seven delegates would abandon their vigil.
At 11.25am, the seven delegates discovered that Blair was hiding in the VIP room just above the convention hall. They took their positions, with three members tasked with taking photographs.
At 11.30am, Blair and his team of goons descended from the VIP room and walked towards the VIP entrance of the convention hall.
Mr Matthias Chang and Mr Zainur Zakaria rushed forward to serve the indictment, while the Iraqi representatives loudly denounced Blair repeatedly: "Mass murderer, war criminal, shame on you." Blair was obviously unsettled and put on an embarrassed smile.
Mr Matthias Chang and Mr Zainur Zakaria were prevented from handing the indictment to Blair by over 30 British and Malaysian security personnel. Both of them denounced Blair within earshot: "War criminal, shame on you! Mass murderer!"
Mr Zainur Zakaria also shouted at the Malaysian security personnel, "Why are you protecting a war criminal?" The security officers could only respond with a silly expression.
Having arrogantly told the Chilcot Inquiry in London that he had no regrets for invading Iraq notwithstanding there were no WMDs, Blair displayed cowardice in the face of only seven delegates.
The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission stated that this is only the beginning of a global campaign to ostracise war criminals like Blair and Bush and urge people the world over to adopt similar campaigns against Bush and Blair.
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